Getting Away

Everyone needs some space—a reprieve from the people or routines that fill our days. I am reminded of this as all of us are spending more and more time sheltering in place.

This was one of my escape routes I took to seek some solitude.

When I was a child, I regularly sought time apart from my four little brothers. These were simple places: the coolness of the barn, the branches of the old maple, a favorite rock at the side of a field. All free and readily available to me. Once there, it didn’t take long to regain an appropriate attitude and some degree of affection for my every-present family. But I found such time necessary and still do.

My classroom of friends at Fulton Elementary School never spoke of vacations or spring break trips. Most of these children also lived on farms—or at least lived rurally with some chickens and pigs. My family’s livelihood depended on the careful monitoring, feeding, and watering of livestock and the timely preparation of the land for spring planting. Getting away was not realistic or expected.

A view of the river and bay at the cabin. I’ve had a lifetime of perfect getaways there.

But when I was in 5th grade, my parents planned a Spring Break trip to the Smokey Mountains. It was to involve lots of riding in the station wagon AND overnight stays in motels with indoor swimming pools. We were so excited we could hardly sleep. The morning of our departure, we crawled in the old Mercury (with a rumble seat in the back), tucked our new comic books carefully beside us, and eyed my mother’s tote bag filled with snacks and other tricks to distract us.

Little Steve about the time he broke his wrist. Our dad and the stockyard representative are in the back. We always looked forward to listening in on their conversations.

My brother Steve made one last run into the house to retrieve his pillow, fell from the top bunk, and broke his wrist badly, ending our trip before it even began. (It took several months for eleven-year-me to forgive him, and even then it was grudgingly, with attitude only a big, bossy sister can bestow.)

No major setbacks (or broken bones) enabled my husband and me to take our three children to the Smokey Mountains and Mammoth Cave when our youngest was five. We visited and toured both places and enjoyed the gorgeous mountain views from a condo we had rented. This was our first official vacation besides our annual cabin trek in July. On our way home, we asked our tired travelers their favorite part of the trip. As the children were pondering the question, I recalled the beautiful wildlife in the Smokey Mountains National Park, the purple and lavender sunrises from our balcony, the stalactites and stalagmites in the depths of the cave. There were so many wonderful moments to choose from.

Our oldest daughter piped up, “The best part was riding the go-carts!” to which her two younger siblings enthusiastically and unanimously agreed, “Yeah, that was the best!”

My husband and I looked at each other in disbelief. We sure didn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to ride go-carts and play miniature golf!

My new normal: reaching out to engage my high school students with my computer. I miss seeing them and worry about their well being.

This spring break adventure reinforced what my husband and I already knew: it doesn’t have to be a big expenditure or extensive travel to satisfy the need for a break and some much-needed time away. It can be as simple as pitching a tent beneath the stars in our backyard for an evening around a fire; turning off our electronics and playing old-fashioned board games with our children or grandchildren;  or spending the afternoon in the hammock lost in books.

I need to remember the simplicity of this during our continued confinement.

It’s a Fine Life

Below are two product ideas for your time of isolation. If you click on the image, it will take you to the item on Amazon. (A small percentage of any purchase you make helps defray the cost of this blog.)

Rack-O This game is a fantastic two person game, which is hard to find. My husband and I play it with our nine-year-old grandchildren. They enjoy it and stay with it. I recommend it.

Where the Crawdads Sing--if you haven’t read this book, consider it. If you lived next door to me, I would loan you my copy. It’s fiction written by a biologist: this means science and beautiful literary style. I am going to re-read it. It’s that good.

Exodus

(This piece first appeared last year in the South County News.)

Our backyard several summers ago, before the mole-plague.

We had an invasion of moles. Plague-like. Of Biblical proportions. As my husband walked the yard last spring, he learned they’ve assaulted the whole neighborhood. Now I’m not talking about a few little raised tunnels. Yes, those are annoying and unsightly, but they are nothing compared to what is generated by this current population. These must be massive moles, I’m talking behemoths, who leave behind fresh six-inch mounds that emerge in clusters.

I imagine their intricate underground roadways and their complex, generational community: big grand-daddies smoke pipes in their fitted velour jackets, flexing their sturdy, pink feet in front of their fragrant moss fires; plump grandmothers squint from behind tiny gold-rimmed glasses, pinching their rose blossom noses, and adjust their tiny acorn lanterns; and children live contentedly several tunnels down, thankful for the plentiful earthworms and grubs that fill their pantries. Most certainly, the grandchildren stop on the way home from school for tea and biscuits. Such bliss and contentment exist beneath our carefully tended yard.

And so my husband began his research, his conferencing, his obsession with evicting these silent intruders. We’ve tried some things, including poison worms in the obvious mole-runs. No luck. We have looked at mole traps: some that look like miniature guillotines and several that have a center spear which pierces the unsuspecting intruder traveling home from a productive day of tunneling. While we are very irritated and frustrated by these pesky mammals, I find these methods too barbaric—and then there is a fat, furry body to deal with…

Eventually a co-worker told my husband about the Sonic Spike, claiming “It’s the best.” Then a neighbor gave testimony to this product. And so began a pilgrimage to the home-improvement store last summer.

(These are similar to the spikes we purchased. If you click on the image, you can read about them on Amazon)

According to a twenty-something, gum-snapping clerk, they work. “Yeah, my grandparents tried them at the cottage and they were like gone. For real.” For real? Her smooth pony tail sways as she nods her head in agreement. Her innocence and enthusiasm complete the sale as my husband studies the box.   According to the box bylines, this solar-operated mole detractor emits a sound every minute or so which is so offensive to these determined critters that they actually “pull up stakes” and leave the infested yard.

It must rattle their little mole ears. Make them clench their little mole paws. Make them pack their little suitcases full of grubs and worms they have collected and become little transient moles, seeking refuge from such mole-ear-piercing torture.

What would make me leave my home? My neighborhood where we raised our children? I can’t imagine what would be so annoying or terrifying to make me take my family, pack the old minivan and leave. Permanently. Never-to-return.

Our backyard, currently free of the mole mounds.

It appears that the Sonic Spike is working. It is now mid-April, and their exit seems complete. Led by some Moses Mole, the clan has entered the promised yard of an unsuspecting neighbor.

I pray their exodus is complete.

It’s a Fine Life.

Our End of the Rainbow

March brings some green back to our lives: hints of the lawn emerge from under the snow, crocus and daffodil leaves reach through the crusty cold, and St Patrick’s Day revelers sport their emerald apparel mid-month—always a late winter pick-me-up.

As children, we loved the idea of a pot of gold hidden by some tricky Leprechauns. When we spotted rainbows, we were excited by the prospect of unexpected loot. Could we outfox a Leprechaun? And what we would do with all that gold? Put in a swimming pool? Travel to Disney World? Buy a new car? As quickly as we spotted a rainbow’s beautiful arch, we could summon those dreams.

But of course, I now know we can only see rainbows from a distance and there is really no end. If we were to keep searching for the gold, the riches are forever illusive, much like an endless search for self.

One of the pastures on the family farm.

In our insular farm world, my parents taught my brothers and me to be satisfied and happy with what we had; we always had enough, and I know now how lucky we were.  This appreciation was to include the food on our plate, the shoes on our feet, and the family and friends around our table. Yes, it was acceptable to dream, and certainly we were encouraged to set goals for ourselves, but our parents insisted that every day was a day to appreciate and enjoy.

Such gratitude was easy to achieve as a child, but as an adult, I find this is a much harder practice. It’s not what our consumer-driven society wants us to believe. To be satisfied, advertising images entice us to buy this car, wear these clothes, or live in this area of the country. These things will make us happy. But the grass is not greener elsewhere.

There isn’t a better place to live in the world, than a small southwest Michigan town. A few hours’ drive in any direction feels like we have entered a different world: the excitement and cultural experiences in Chicago; the renaissance and renewed pride of Detroit; or the gorgeous shorelines of the Great Lakes. We enjoy outstanding public and private colleges and universities, beautiful hardwood forests, and rich, productive farmland.

This rainbow appeared over our cousins’ dairy barn the morning after their precious mother died–such a beautiful sign of love and hope.

Truly, we live at the end of the rainbow.  

I remember the story of hope from the Old Testament—the rainbow’s appearance, a symbol that the storms of this life will eventually pass. And today, the message of the rainbow has also come to symbolize acceptance and inclusiveness for so many.

Yes, a rainbow’s beauty remains magical today. And even with the scientific understanding of their formation, rainbows still amaze and surprise us, sometimes at the times when we need an emotional lift the most.

The reality is that we will always face challenges in this life, but these storms also come with the reassurance of many more rainbows.

It’s a Fine Life